If you’re looking for a relaxing vacation in Southeast Asia, there’s one country that stands out above the rest. With quiet, unassuming cities, ancient, mystical attractions and impressive natural beauty, Laos is worlds away from the Ho Chi Minh City madness and Bangkok big city hustle. Still a bit behind in the times (and seemingly not too anxious to move forward), you’ll have to go out of your way to feel stressed, rushed or overwhelmed here in any way. If you’re unsure about what to do while touring this thin, Southeast Asian sliver, worry not. There’s a pretty clear-cut tourist path that keeps everyone interested, entertained and intrigued (while still feeling like you’re exploring the deepest depths of the continent).
Touring the Capital
Entering through the capital of Vientiane may be the easiest way to begin your tour of Laos. A city of 210,000, Vientiane’s quaint size and small population makes it feel more like a sleepy, French colonial town than an economic hub. With beautiful, ancient Buddhist temples, stunning French Colonial architecture, a riverside promenade and modern cafés, restaurants and bars, time slowly and sweetly passes by for visitors meandering the capital.
Your Vientaine tour guide will commence your tour of the capital with a visit to the towering, golden Pha That Luang (The Great Stupa). With roots reaching back as far as the 3rd century, its architecture, mythological sculptures and meditative Buddha statues are some of the most striking in the country.
There are a number of other notable religious monuments to see (Wat Sisaket & Wat Simuang to name a few), but if you’re strapped for time, the Lao National Museum is an excellent couple-hour visit where you can learn all about the country’s history and culture. For the best scenery in town, nothing beats a Beer Lao and walk along the Mekong riverfront. An excellent market and restaurant scene in the surrounding areas as well ensure you won’t have to look far for an enjoyable evening.
Heading South from Vientiane
Most tours from the capital head north to Luang Prabang, though the country’s southern region does have a few highlights worth visiting. Savannakhet is perhaps the most famous southern city, with tourist-friendly services and loads of jungle, cycling wildlife tours offered in the area. Even further south is the sleepy town of Champasak. Though a bit hard to believe today, this quaint southwestern town was once the capital city of the Kingdom of Champasak (up until 1945). Here visitors can explore the grounds of Wat Phu, an 11th-13th century Khmer temple complex seated at the base of Phu Kao Mountain. Though not as grand as Cambodia’s Angkor complexes, Wat Phu does have some beautiful sites, stunning landscapes and an alluring mystical charm.
Traveling North From the Vientiane
Traveling north along the bumpy, poorly managed country roads, many visitors’ first stop is the town of Vang Vieng. A sleepy, riverside locale known for its caves, striking mountain views and peaceful, snaking river, outdoor enthusiasts will love this laid-back countryside village. Visitors beware: Vang Vieng is also famous for attracting fun-seeking backpackers who party their way down the river; if you’re not interested in this scene, find a different part of town to stay in! Tours from Vang Vieng usually go north to the city of Luang Prabang or northeast to Phonsavan.
Phonsavan is the closest town to the Plain of Jars, which is both a picturesque rolling plain atop the giant Xieng Khuang Plateau as well as the site where megalithic “Jars” are located. One of Southeast Asia’s most important archaeological sites, these jars provide some amazing insights into the Iron Age civilization of which very little is still known.
And then there’s Luang Prabang, verily credited in any Laos tourism guide as the country’s most charming destination. Known for its laid-back atmosphere, this beautiful city is situated at the confluence of two rivers, surrounded by stunning mountains and home to some world-renowned attractions. From its gorgeous Royal Palace Complex and endless Buddhist monasteries to the beautiful Mount Phousi and ultra friendly locals, visitors will quickly fall in love with Luang Prabang. In the morning you can watch monks on their daily pindabat, in the daytime explore the streets, temples and markets, and in the evening have a riverside cruise watching the sunset over the surrounding mountains. Embark on a day trip to the nearby Kouang Si Waterfalls, a beautiful spot to cool down during your stay while a visit to the sacred Buddhist icon-filled Pak Ou Caves is another must-see attraction.
Image Details and Licenses: https://flic.kr/p/3Wzk47(Patrik M. Loeff,CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/8rj3uZ (Samnang Danou, CC BY 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/4PVYdE(Bentley Smith,CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/hmdWpH(Vietnamitas en Madrid,CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/8DbdY1(Emad Ghazipura,CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/dstNCu(worldsurfr,CC BY-NC-ND 2.0), https://flic.kr/p/eoQ4x5(Jonas Ginter,CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)